Lange photos of Japanese internment show a different light

Unpublished photos of the internment of U.S. citizens of Japanese ancestry during World War II were found in the National Archives.

Japanese Americans line up at Tanforan Assembly Center

Dorothea Lange took the photos, but they were forgotten in the archives — they did not show the view that the government wanted to be shown, some speculate, and so were not widely disseminated.

The pictures are being published for the first time, in Impounded:  Dorothea Lange and the Censored Images of Japanese American Internment (W. W. Norton).

The New York Times carried some of the photos and a story about the book.

Lange, who died in 1965, showed families who had abandoned their homes and property. Because they couldn’t bring their belongings with them, they were often forced to sell them to speculators at reduced prices. In harrowing images that uncomfortably echo the Nazi round-ups of Jews in Europe, Lange’s photographs document long, weaving lines of well-dressed people, numbered tags around their necks, patiently waiting to be processed and sent to unknown destinations.

“There is no way to really know how much they lost,” Mr. Okihiro said in an interview, but he cited a 1983 study commissioned by a Congressional committee estimating that, adjusted for inflation and interest, internees had lost $2.5 billion to $6.2 billion in property and entitlements. Mr. Okihiro writes that one man, Ichiro Shimoda, was so distraught he tried to commit suicide by biting off his own tongue. When that failed, he tried to asphyxiate himself. Finally he climbed a camp fence, and a guard shot him to death.

Another man, Kokubo Takara, died after being forced to stand in line in the rain as a disciplinary measure at Sand Island in Hawaii. At assembly points in Hawaii, Mr. Okihiro writes, some detainees were forced to strip naked and had their body cavities searched.

Upon arrival at the assembly centers — including the Tanforan Assembly Center in San Bruno, Calif., a former racetrack — the internees passed through two lines of soldiers with bayonets trained on them. Lange was not allowed to photograph the soldiers, but she did manage some stark images of the horse stalls where the families lived, pictures that are included in the book.

18 Responses to Lange photos of Japanese internment show a different light

  1. Nick K says:

    why did the Japanese plan to attack us for a long time we didnt do anything to them and we (u.s.) didnt want to get in volve in the war but then they attact us why?

    Because we embargoed their oil as the stick part of the “carrot and stick” in order to get them to quit treating their neighbors as cannon fodder.

    They rather misunderstood what would happen if they gave the United States ample reason to come crashing down on their heads.

    Very much like how kimi there is blatantly misunderstanding history.


  2. Nick K says:

    Right, Martin, because the Japanese military and government back then was oh so trustworthy and weren’t trying to conquer the entire Pacific.

    Exactly what pscyhotropic drug have you been ingesting to come up with that one?

    Sorry, the pacific arm of world war 2 needed to be fought just as much as the european.

    Joe writes:
    I’ve been under the impression that while Pearl Harbor was an attack on the US, it wasn’t particularly meant as a declaration of war or intent to attack other targets. Time to dust off the books and, er, hit them.

    Joe, from wikipedia:
    The declaration of war by the Empire of Japan on the United States and the British Empire document was released on December 8, 1941 (Japan time, December 7 in the United States) after the attack on Pearl Harbor was executed pre-emptively. The declaration of war was printed on the front page of all newspapers in Japan in the evening edition on December 8. The document was subsequently printed again on the eighth day of each month throughout the war (until Japan surrendered in 1945), to re-affirm the resolve for the war

    Oh look…it was…wait for it…a declaration of war.

    So kindly quit trying to rewrite history


  3. Martin says:

    The USA didn’t exactly want Japan to attack Pearl Harbour, but they certainly took the bait much to the dismay of many Japanese military personnel, who incidentally studied at British universities prior to the war and had huge misgivings about any military action.

    Indeed relations with the UK were very strong at that time and I understand the Japanese practically begged top British politicians whom they felt had influence on the USA to limit their pacific intentions.
    It was these intentions that angered the more right wing element, not in our back yard you wont! attitude. Thus all the ingredients for a sad, diabolical mess that was the pacific war.

    Totally preventable if only humility and empathy were the basis of foreign policy in both countries. Lets hope our politicians have understood from history that respect is a relatively easy commodity to be in possession of


  4. Ed Darrell says:

    I see nothing there to convince me that the Japanese lacked imperialist dreams, or that the Japanese lacked the intent to destroy U.S. naval power in the Pacific.

    In your writings, I see a lot of odd claims that run counter to history, appearing to be driven more by paranoia than historical fact.


  5. kimamura says:

    Dear ED, “fortunately for the U.S., the aircraft carriers were not in Pearl at the time” ? Do you know why?
    You can read many declassified documents


  6. Ed Darrell says:

    Joe, you may want to revisit the history books. The Pearl Harbor attack was one of a series of highly coordinated attacks on non-Japanese interests throughout the Pacific. Within a week, Japan had launched major attacks on British, French and Dutch holdings across Southeast Asia and near Australia. The attack on Pearl Harbor was intended to destroy the U.S. Navy and effectively remove the U.S. from any interaction in the Pacific. Unfortunately for Japan, fortunately for the U.S., the aircraft carriers were not in Pearl at the time.

    Check up on the history of Midway. Japan hoped to complete the destruction of the U.S. Pacific Fleet at Midway, with another surprise attack. The U.S. intercepted communications saying it was coming, and the aircraft carriers were in place to fight the battle.

    Pearl Harbor was very much a declaration of war, and only the first of many planned attacks.


  7. Joe says:

    FWIW, I learned that Japan had ambitions to take over Hawai’i, seeing it as part of the Co-Prosperity Sphere. They didn’t particularly want to aggravate/ colonize the US, but they saw Hawai’i as within their rightful dominion.

    (Honestly, it’s as much theirs as ours– which is to say, not at all.)

    I’ve been under the impression that while Pearl Harbor was an attack on the US, it wasn’t particularly meant as a declaration of war or intent to attack other targets. Time to dust off the books and, er, hit them.


  8. Ed Darrell says:

    The war between Japan and Russia ended in 1905. The U.S. was neutral enough to mediate the peace talks. The U.S. did not prepare for a war in Asia.

    What is it you claim Roosevelt (which one?) did that the textbooks don’t mention?


  9. Kimamura says:

    History must be studied. US financed and supported Japan when Japan-Russo War. The war between Japan and US already started this point. US wanted to get some portion of China. England, Germany, … everyone had China, but not US. US got Manchurial for Japan from Russia. US wanted half the right of the railroad, Japan refused. Both country started war preparation, yes US and Japan. You can see what US wanted by examining what she did in China right after the War. Wars never happen all of sudden. It takes a long time to prepare. Everyone should know what Roosevelt did, that US history textbooks will not mention.


  10. Ed Darrell says:

    Japan was trying to create an empire in the Pacific. In order to do so they needed coal and iron ore from China, rubber from Malaysia and Southeast Asia, oil from various places, and other resources. They planned to just take the resources and subjugate the peoples in those nations.

    The only other country really active in the Pacific with power to stop their grand scheme was the U.S. They thought they might avoid attacking the U.S., but the U.S. kept telling them to stop conquering other nations. To prevent the U.S. from having the power to thwart their efforts, they decided to wipe out the U.S. Pacific Fleet.

    The war in the Pacific really started about 1935. There were six years of U.S. indecision and inaction prior to Pearl Harbor. It’s interesting, but sometimes confusing history.


  11. Paige says:

    why did the Japanese plan to attack us for a long time we didnt do anything to them and we (u.s.) didnt want to get in volve in the war but then they attact us why?


  12. […] chunk of American history strikes particular sympathetic chords with students of any conscience.  Dorothea Lange’s having photographed some of the events and places, as well as Ansel Adams and others, also leaves a rich pictorial […]


  13. […] A reader graciously pointed the way to a very good source of information about the Japanese internment, especially on video, in comments to my earlier post about the book on Dorothea Lange’s photos of internment events. […]


  14. Shay Witt says:

    Japanese interment is a horrible scar on our nation’s history but should not be hidden. To get past the atrocities committed by taking a whole population of people away from their property, homes, family and freedom we must make people more aware of the event. It is interesting that these photos just came out because it was at the government’s best interest to keep them hidden.
    I am a student at the University of Montana, and it was here, IN COLLEGE, that I first learned about the Japanese Internment camps. I think that the information should be presented as a regular and required part of high school history classes, or some literature on Japanese Interment could be put into English classes.
    I would recommend Mine Okubo’s Citizen 13660. She is a cartoonist that was put into a Japanese Interment camp and separated from her mother and father. The book is a wonderful depiction of the camp, through her cartoons and sparse “captions”. She tells of her daily life in the camps, sometimes humorous and very informational this book is highly recommended. Also, if you think that the pictures taken by Dorthea Lange are interesting you might also check out Something Strong Within produced by the Japanese American National Museum. This 40 minute film shows actual home video from within the internment camp. The film is silent but it speaks loud, it shows how the people endured the loss of their freedom. There are clips of baseball games, the prisoners celebrating New Years, and children playing, all behind the fences.


  15. […] I also want to thank D at the Axis of Evel Knievel for the link to the post on this blog about the newly released collection of Dorothea Lange’s photos of the Japanese internment in the U.S. during World War II.  The book, and the issue, deserve a wide audience.  Especially among Texas high school kids, whose tests show they need to know more about the Japanese internment, and World War II in general.  Especially, they need to know more before they march off to war, or march off to court to defend systems that allow our government to summarily imprison people who are otherwise peaceful. Explore posts in the same categories: History, World War II, Japanese American internment […]


  16. edarrell says:

    Lange’s images are among the more vivid out of the Great Depression, and as we can see in these photos, out of World War II. Much of her material is posted at the Library of Congress site.

    My personal experience is that these photos bring history to life for teenagers. I ended up putting her “migrant mother” photo on my study guide for the Depression, and I found that students got the points about the depression much more effectively. When the photo was put on the exams, students would get the stuff right more than half the time.

    Pictures are powerful tools to use in the classroom to pass information. Lange’s photos make the point.

    Put some of these images in your handouts, tests and presentations — see if they don’t make a difference. Texas students have tested poorly on the Japanese internment for a couple of years — our high school kids, almost all “at risk,” scored the highest in the district on the social studies exit examination. I think our use of images played a big role.

    Thanks for the link to the San Francisco Museum — more images, more potential for powerful lessons.


  17. bernarda says:

    Here is a site with some more information on Lange.


Please play nice in the Bathtub -- splash no soap in anyone's eyes. While your e-mail will not show with comments, note that it is our policy not to allow false e-mail addresses. Comments with non-working e-mail addresses may be deleted.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: